When the Gales of November Came Early – 42 Years Ago

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 November 10, 1975. Do you remember?

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.”

 Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” 1976


I remember it well. I can still “see” Harry Reasoner sitting at his desk on the evening news talking about the apparent loss of the ship “Edmund Fitzgerald” and crew of 29. For some reason, it struck me – viscerally. Perhaps it was because we were so used to seeing great ships going under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (although they were not nearly as large as the Great Lakes freighters). I remember following the story at the time. I never forgot the sadness I felt. Then, too, there’s that song…it’s one of those that sticks in your head and takes forever to get rid of.


The last voyage of the Great Lakes Freighter “Edmund Fitzgerald,” captained by Ernest M. McSorley, started in Superior, Wisconsin on November 9, 1975. The “Fitz” was loaded with over 26,000 tons of iron ore pellets. The ship was scheduled to transport the cargo to Zug Island on the Detroit River. She left port with the Arthur M Anderson whose captain was Bernie Cooper. It was determined that the Edmund Fitzgerald would take the lead as she was the faster vessel.

Both captains were acutely aware of a building November storm entering the Great Lakes. Captain McSorley and Captain Cooper agreed to take the northerly course across Lake Superior, where they would be protected by the Canadian shore. They would later make a turn to the southeast to eventually reach the shelter of Whitefish Point.

Weather conditions continued to deteriorate. Gale warnings had been upgraded to storm warnings early in the morning of November 10. While conditions were bad, with winds gusting to 50 knots and seas 12 to 16 feet, both Captains had often piloted their vessels in similar conditions.


Last Voyage

As the Fitzgerald approached Caribou Island, it appeared to Captain Cooper on the Anderson that the Fitz had passed far too close to Six Fathom Shoal. He could clearly see the ship and the beacon on Caribou on his radar and could measure the distance between them. He and his officers watched the Fitzgerald pass right over the dangerous area of shallow water. By this time, snow and rising spray had obscured the Fitzgerald from sight

According to transcripts and quoting from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum website, “At 3:30 pm that afternoon, Captain McSorley radioed Captain Cooper and said: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list. I’m checking down. Will you stay by me till I get to Whitefish?” McSorley was “checking down” his speed to allow the Anderson to close the distance for safety. Captain Cooper asked McSorley if he had his pumps going, and McSorley said, ‘Yes, both of them.’”

There were no more extraordinarily alarming reports from Captain McSorley that afternoon. However, at around 5 p.m., a wave smashed into the Anderson smashing its starboard lifeboat. Winds were reported to be almost 60 knots steady, with gusts to 70 knots. Seas were running 18 to 25 feet.

Again, from the GLSM website, “According to Captain Cooper, about 6:55 pm, he and the men in the Anderson’s pilothouse felt a “bump”, felt the ship lurch, and then turned to see a monstrous wave engulfing their entire vessel from astern. The wave worked its way along the deck, crashing on the back of the pilothouse, driving the bow of the Anderson down into the sea.

“Then the Anderson just raised up and shook herself off of all that water – barrooff – just like a big dog. Another wave just like the first one or bigger hit us again. I watched those two waves head down the lake towards the Fitzgerald, and I think those were the two that sent him under.’”

The first mate of the Anderson spoke to the Fitzgerald one last time, about 7:10 pm.

Fitzgerald: “We are holding our own.”

“Okay, fine, I’ll be talking to you later.” The mate signed off.

The radar signal, or “pip” of the Fitzgerald kept getting obscured by “sea return,” meaning that seas were so high they interfered with the radar reflection. Around 7:15 pm, the pip was lost again, but this time, did not reappear. The Anderson’s First Mate called the Fitzgerald again at about 7:22 pm. There was no answer.

Quoting Captain Cooper, “At this time I became very concerned about the Fitzgerald – couldn’t see his lights when we should have. I then called the William Clay Ford to ask him if my phone was putting out a good signal and also if perhaps the Fitzgerald had rounded the point and was in shelter, after a negative report I called the Soo Coast Guard because I was sure something had happened to the Fitzgerald. The Coast Guard were at this time trying to locate a 16-foot boat that was overdue.”

Captain Cooper kept asking the few other ships in the area if they had seen or heard anything from the Fitzgerald. As there had been no word, he persisted with the Coast Guard. Captain Cooper and his crew had just managed to pilot the Anderson to safety in Whitefish Bay. They were all breathing a huge sigh of relief when the Coast Guard made a huge request of them.

There were no Coast Guard ships in the immediate area. Could the Anderson go back out into the storm to look for the Fitzgerald? I can’t imagine the anxiety. Here they had just reached safety after being hammered by a huge storm including two huge, rogue waves (called “two sisters” in maritime lingo), but the seaman’s unwritten code is that you go to try to help fellow seamen.

The Anderson became the lead boat in the search. The Anderson was again severely pounded by the storm and was rolling badly, but they were able to locate the Fitzgerald’s two lifeboats (empty) and other debris, but no sign of survivors. The William Clay Ford also left the safety of Whitefish Bay to help. These two were later joined by two Coast Guard cutters and a fixed-wing aircraft.

The Coast Guard continued the search. On November 14, a specially-outfitted, U.S. Navy plane got a strong signal 17 miles off Whitefish Point. In the next few days, the Coast Guard cutters used different technologies (including side-scan radar) to check that area. One of them located two large pieces of wreckage on the bottom in the same area. A similar search took place in late November. However, winter was closing in. There would be no chance to continue until spring. As large as the Great Lakes are, Mother Nature and winter are stronger. The Lakes become impassible with ice.


In May of 1976, they returned to try to determine if these sonar responses were, indeed, the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Navy submersibles took thousands of feet of video and hundreds of still photos. On May 20, 1976, all question as to the final resting place of the “Fitz” was removed as photos were examined and the name “Edmund Fitzgerald” was clearly seen on the stern, upside down, 535 feet below the surface of the lake.

Depiction of the Wreck

In November of 1994, family members of the crew brought their concerns to The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS). They were worried that technology was getting to the point where more and more divers were able to dive the wrecksite of the Fitzgerald. They, naturally, considered this sacred ground as it is the final resting place of their loved ones. The families were still trying to find some form of “closure.”


After discussions with the families, a long list of U.S. and Canadian government agencies, and the owners of the wreck, it was determined that a single, significant artifact – the ship’s bell – could be removed from roof of the pilothouse and brought to shore. A replacement bell, inscribed with the names of the 29 sailors who lost their lives on the Fitzgerald, would be returned to the pilothouse.

The bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald broke water at 1:25 pm, July 4, 1995 as family members watched. A wreath was placed on the water following the recovery. Family members there that day finally had the opportunity to express their grief, say goodbye and for some, bring closure after 20 years. The replacement bell would be returned to the wreck.


The Fitzgerald’s bell was stabilized and then delivered to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. From there, the museum continued restoring the bell for use as the centerpiece of a memorial to the men who died in the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. You can see it, today, as the centerpiece of their museum along with a photo of Captain McSorley and additional information about and pictures of the Fitzgerald.

The Edmund Fitzgerald will forever, legally, remain off-limits to divers as it is the final resting place for the 29 souls lost that fateful night.


Christening of the “Fitz”

“Life” moments of the Edmund Fitzgerald

8/7/1957: Keel laid

6/8/1958: Hull #301 is christened “Edmund Fitzgerald” after the CEO of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company

9/24/1958: The Fitzgerald makes her maiden voyage

1972: Captain Ernest McSorley takes command of the Edmund Fitzgerald

11/10/1975: Last day of the great ship

5/20/1976: More than 40,000 feet of video tape from expeditions to the purported wreck by submersibles is examined. The words “Edmund Fitzgerald” were clearly seen on the stern, upside down, 535 feet below the surface of the lake

7/4/1995: The bell of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald is raised, restored, and replaced on the ship by a new bell with the names of the twenty nine men lost. This is the last time the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald will ever again be legally dived upon


To this day, the true reason for the sinking goes unsolved. Did the Fitzgerald essentially scuttle herself on the shoals in the storm? Were the hatches properly fastened? Did the two giant, rogue waves (the “two sisters”) that hit the Anderson continue to build and swamp an already listing Fitzgerald driving her into the bottom? We’ll never know. There were no survivors to tell the tale.

“Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
May have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.


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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

WIDMSV – Eagle River Inn; Brockway Mountain Drive; Visiting an Old Friend’s Family

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WIDMSV? What I Did on My Summer Vacation!


We reached the upper parts of the Keweenaw Peninsula expecting cooler weather. Unfortunately, the ‘weather gods’ didn’t get the memo. It was in the mid-90s! Again, it’s not SUPPOSED to be that hot in the Keweenaw. For the most part, they don’t have air-conditioning. They usually don’t need it. Phew!

Eagle River Inn (Beach side)
Photo from their Website

Representative Room
Eagle River Inn

We checked into our room at the Eagle River Inn (which was so clean and newly refurbished, we could still smell the fresh paint). The Eagle River Inn has been a labor of love for Mike and Marc (the proprietors). They have spent every penny they could come up with on fixing up this wonderful inn which is only steps away from one of the prettiest, most accessible beaches in the Keweenaw. Their attention to detail is amazing. They have turned this location into a comfortable, friendly, destination inn that we will look forward to visiting over and over again.

One of our “neighbors”


Did I mention that the Eagle River Inn is DOG FRIENDLY??!!!! They are! I believe that the future of inn-keeping is in pet-friendly accommodations. More and more, people consider their pets integral parts of the family. The idea of leaving a family member behind in a kennel or alone at home is troubling. A key to enjoying a family vacation is for the WHOLE family to enjoy the time together. I really have to commend The Eagle River Inn for being so forward thinking.


It was far more comfortable driving in the car – with air-conditioning –so we decided that the Brockway Mountain Drive sounded like a good idea. The drive is a beautifully scenic road that runs from just north of Eagle River up to Copper Harbor. The views winding up the road are just beautiful. There are views of Lake Superior


Inland lakes




 Rock outcroppings


I have read that there were plan to put a cell tower on Brockway Mountain. (Okay, y’all, this wouldn’t be considered a “mountain” in the south – well, except maybe Florida. In Michigan, however, this is surely a “mountain” as the glaciers really scraped most of the state flat.) It is the highest point around and I understand the need for communications, but I certainly hope that they figure something else out that won’t mar the beauty of this amazingly pristine area.


Wild Berry
(World’s Best Ice Cream!)

As we reached the end of the road, we found ourselves just a little ways from the Wild Berry. I had found out that one of my high school classmates had grown up in Copper Harbor, Michigan. She and her family (the Nousiainens) had owned and run the Wild Berry Ice Cream store. Her brother, George (who had been a few years ahead of us in school), had moved back to Copper Harbor and was still running the store.


ICE CREAM!!!!! What a marvelous idea! It was especially welcome in this heat. We would have loved to visit more with George and his wife, but we weren’t the only ones thinking that ice cream sounded like a good idea. The place was packed! We did, however, get the opportunity to treat ourselves to sundaes made with local fruit and some of the best, smoothest, most delicious ice cream I’ve ever eaten. (In retrospect, I wonder if the ice cream was really as fabulous as I remember or if it was just because it was so very welcome.)



I opted for thimbleberry. A thimbleberry is related to raspberries. It’s a delicious, tart fruit with LOTS (and I do mean to capitalize that) of seeds! It’s absolutely delicious, but the pips… I tend to think they’re worth dealing with.



Jim opted for bilberry. Bilberries are related to what we call blueberries. In fact, in Europe, these are what they know as blueberries. This special variety only grows in the Keweenaw and especially in the wilds around Copper Harbor. Bilberry is known to be good for maintaining healthy blood-sugar levels and the leaves make a tea that is good for blood pressure. I guess that means that Jim was eating “health food.” Yeah, uh huh…


All I can tell you is that we both thoroughly enjoyed our sundaes, and it was great to be able to visit with family of an old friend. We immediately made plans to come back the next day for more camaraderie and, of course, more ice cream.


By the time we finished our ice cream and said good-bye, we were getting pretty worn out. It had been a very long day starting with birding (and getting eaten alive) in the morning and lots of driving in the middle. We decided to head back to the Eagle River Inn, grab some dinner, and try to get some sleep.


The road that we took back south followed the shoreline of Lake Superior. What a gorgeous place this is! We stopped at a couple of outlooks along the way. At one, there was a couple who were tossing a ‘duck’ out into the Lake for their chocolate lab to fetch. We enjoyed watching the dog swim out again and again (obviously enjoying his game), retrieving his prize, and returning it to his people.


We wanted to make certain that we got back to Fitzgerald’s (the superb restaurant at the Eagle River Inn) for our dinner reservation. The special was smoked prime rib! They have a huge smoker in the parking lot of the Inn. It smelled so wonderful when we left that we wanted to be sure not to miss out.

(Photo from their Website)

We were rewarded handsomely! That was one of the finest meals we’ve had in a while. The meat was smoked to perfection and the accompaniments were excellent. Jim had a smoked-fish appetizer. I tried it, but I decided that I’d save the room for dinner. I did, however, have a nice ‘Bookers.’ I must make a special note of the tremendous variety of whiskies that Fitzgerald’s stocks. Whether it’s bourbon or scotch whiskey that float your boat, they probably have your brand – or a brand that you’ve been wanting to try. They also have an excellent selection of whiskies from other parts of the world (Canadian, Irish, even Japanese).

Sunset at
The Eagle River Inn


After eating a huge meal, and the long day, we were ready for a good night’s sleep. This was the first time it really occurred to me that we were much further north. At 11:00 p.m., it was still light (and still HOT)! After snapping several photos of the amazing sunset and a late lakes’ freighter, I finally drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July! I figured I wouldn’t be getting much sleep at all then.

Lakes Freighter


Up Next: The Fourth of July – Keweenaw Style


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What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Prologue)

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I know! I haven’t blogged in too long. Hope I didn’t lose to many subscribers. I seem to either go full speed ahead or not at all when it comes to blogging. I’m going to try (mind you, not promising anything) to post more regularly. If it works out the way I hope, there will be two posts a week. If I were smart (again, I’m not saying…), I’d write bunches of blogs at a time and post them twice a week so I could get ahead and have some “in the can” for when I reach my fallow periods.


Jim and I actually took a summer vacation this year (GASP!!!) It’s hard to believe that the last real vacation was when our adorable niece, Caitlin, graduated from high school. That was two years ago. We’d planned a trip last summer for our 25th anniversary, but we cancelled them when friends asked about visiting. We also had really hoped to get to our nephew, Allen William’s (named after my dad), graduation this year, but it was on a Thursday (odd) and at a time we were going through a major inspection at work.


As we could only take a week off from work, we decided to explore Michigan. We took the week including July 4 so that we only had to take four work-days. Jim was born and raised here, but his family never got to go explore the state much. As y’all know, I’m a southern girl who only moved here nine years ago. NINE YEARS AGO???!!! Anyway, we decided to visit parts of this beautiful state that were new to us both. The obvious answer was the Upper Peninsula (UP).


To all my non-Michigan friends, the state of Michigan is actually two completely disparate peninsulas. This goes back to an argument with Ohio (and they still go at it – hammer and tongs – especially in football season). Way back when (1830s), both Michigan and Ohio were laying claim to a strip of real estate that contained the port city of Toledo. This actually came to a head with shots fired and the U.S. government had to intercede. An agreement was struck. Ohio got Toledo and the border with Michigan was drawn just north of that city. Michigan got the Upper Peninsula (which – if you look at a map – is really more akin to Wisconsin). Ohio got the port, but Michigan got a natural treasure with shoreline on four of the five Great Lakes. The abundance of trees for lumber, copper and other minerals made it a long-term, great trade-off for Michigan.

Map showing “Toledo Strip” shamelessly “borrowed” from Wikipedia


Over the next several weeks, I’ll tell you about our travels in the UP. I’ll tell you about the places we stayed, the restaurants we found, and the sites we saw. It truly was a great trip and we trolls (that’s what Yoopers – Upper Peninsula residents – call those of us who live “under the bridge”) had a wonderful time. I hope I can entertain you and help you see what a fabulously beautiful state Michigan really is. Maybe you’ll even want to plan a trip to Michigan.


Up Next: Mackinaw City and Going Over the Bridge

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Happy New Year

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What do you do for New Year’s Eve? Chez Pappas, we usually stay in with the “kids” (our German Shepherd Dogs for those of you who haven’t been following the blog). One year, we did something extraordinary. We went to Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman, Michigan. Before I go any further, let me state, unequivocally, that this is a totally unsolicited and uncompensated account of our visit. All the photos of the resort in my blog have been shamelessly “borrowed” from their website (http://www.thunderbayresort.com).

Thunder Bay Resort is a resort in the northern, Lower Peninsula. (Remember, Michigan has two peninsulas – the UP (Upper Peninsula) bordered by Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron; and the LP (Lower Peninsula) bordered by Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie). It’s a year-round resort with terrific golf in warm weather, and winter sports when it’s cold. The resort has good food and a really nice bar. They have lots of activities all year, but we really enjoyed their New Year’s Eve celebration.


The New Year’s package included really nice accommodations, a horse-drawn ride out to view the elk (they have an elk farm), and a fantastic meal with open bar served in a gorgeous log cabin. All the food is cooked on a huge, old, wood-burning stove. It’s a multi-course meal that anyone would enjoy. They also serve wine from a local winery. Everyone is seated at large round tables. It’s a great opportunity to meet new friends. The entertainment is uproarious. Even if you start out a bit shy, you’ll find yourself drawn into the party.


There’s no need to worry about driving after enjoying the open bar. The horse-drawn vehicles return to take everyone back to their rooms by midnight. In the room we found our own bottle of bubbly and two glasses. It sure was nice to be able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves with no worries about being on the roads on “amateur” night.


We hope to get back to Thunder Bay Resort within the next couple of years! It’s definitely worth the trip. Next time, we’d love to go with friends or family. It’s a blast.

So, how do you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Watch the Times Square ball drop? Perhaps the Big Peach? I’d love to have you share with us. Just click on the Reply button at the bottom.

Up Next: Of Snowshoes and Face Plants

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